A Trump portraitist whose lawsuit against the Smithsonian Institution and National Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet was thrown out in December is appealing the district court’s decision, arguing that his work deserves to be shown in the hallowed institution.
“It’s remarkable. It is dramatic. And I believe it has the fingerprints of divine providence upon it,” said artist Julian Raven in a homemade video explaining why he was inspired to create a 300-pound, 16-foot-long painting of president Donald Trump.
Against a soundtrack of bass-throbbing club music, Raven, who is based in Elmira, New York, says he began the work back in 2015 after being struck by a vision of the then president-elect’s face superimposed on a giant American flag falling to the ground. “An eagle swoop[ed] in snatching/rescuing the flag as the words ‘Unafraid And Unashamed’ as if on a ticker-tape pass along the screen of my mind,” he explained on his website.
Raven goes on to describe some of the symbolism he’s painted into the work, including a border wall with an open door “for legal immigrants to get through,” a curled-up fetus, and the frayed end of a loose rope meant to evoke the snake motif of the “Don’t Tread on Me” American Revolution flag.
After 600 hours of labor, Raven’s opus, Unafraid and Unashamed, was complete, and it has been making the rounds at Republican rallies for the past few years. Most recently, it appeared at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where it lit up the Twittersphere, served as the literal backdrop for the right-wing meetup.
Raven believes that his work deserves national recognition, and should hang alongside paintings of other presidents in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. The artist has been mired in a legal battle with the Smithsonian since 2017, claiming that the government institution is violating his First Amendment rights. Now, he told the Daily Beast, he believes his appeal “may go all the way to the Supreme Court.”
Raven did not respond to a request for comment. The Smithsonian said that it cannot comment on pending litigation.
According to court documents, Raven first applied to have his portrait displayed as part of Trump’s inauguration in 2017. When he was rebuffed by the Rockwell Museum (an affiliate of the Smithsonian), he contacted the National Portrait Gallery’s director, Kim Sajet.
In the filings, Raven describes a hostile conversation that ended with rejection on the grounds that his magnum opus painting was too big, too pro-Trump, and not a very good painting.
In his 20-page ruling, judge Trevor N. McFadden dismissed Raven’s argument, stating bluntly, “Mr. Raven’s constitutional claims fail as a matter of law.”
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